Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Quick Book Reviews

I got a few books for Christmas, but with a newborn at home I didn't exactly plow through them. If it weren't for my streetcar ride to and from work, I don't know when I'd find the time.

The March - E.L. Doctorow

To me, Doctorow is the Terence Malick of American fiction. His writing has a dream-like quality, and the words wash over you like a wave. Although ostensibly about Sherman's march through Georgia, this book is really about how people respond to anarchy. The cast of characters is varied, and each one finds a way to survive amidst the chaos. The best and worst of people can be seen. What I found most amazing, was the sense of calm Doctorow is able to instill. You can almost hear the birds chirping as the exhausted soldiers drag their feet along a dirt road. This is great stuff, and I recommend it to anyone looking to anyone looking to take a langurous stroll through a well written novel.

Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire's Slaves - Adam Hochschild

This wonderful book by the author of the great King Leopold's Ghost sets out to examine the fight for the abolition of slavery in the British Empire. I have read a great deal on slavery and the slave trade, but I don't recall coming across any books dealing with the grassroots movement to first end the slave trade and then abolish slavery altogether. What Hoschchild is able to convey very early on in this book is that while history has seen many men fight for their own right, it was truly revolutionary to see men fighting for the rights of others. The author takes us from the shores of West Africa to English shipping towns to the plantations of the West Indies. He covers an incredible amount of ground in a mere 370 pages and manages to point out interesting details without ever getting bogged down by tagential discussion. When we think of the end of the slave trade and emancipation, we tend to think of fixed dates, and never really comtemplate just how long the journey it was for those fighting for the cause. Hoschchild demonstrates that is was the almost endless stream of petitions, boycotts and slave revolts (both failed and successful) that ultimately led to the Emancipation of British slaves. For anyone interested in learning more about this little known facet of history that touches Africa, Europe and America - I strongly recommend this book.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Golden Oldies.

Listen, I love Frank Miller. I love his badass Dark Knight version of Batman. I like Mike Grell and his brooding Green Arrow working in a seedy Seattle. I also like modern twists on old characters, like what they did with Sandman Mystery Theater.

I like all that stuff - comics can be grim and gritty and come across like a
Tarantino movie and that's just fine.

All of that being said - Golden Age books are great. They can shine in all of their goofy glory. Fawcett produc
ed some of the silliest, most family friendly stories on the market. If any hero could be accused of being milquetoast, it's the Big Red Cheese. Such cricism simply can't stick though, because the Marvel Family book are just so damned great.

Here is an example of a very inventive little story written by Otto Binder - one of the most unique talents ever to work in the funnybook business. Have a look at this stuff and think about how much creativity went into putting this one together. Today, many people might see it as simply being lame, but they are missing the whole point. There is more charm and creativity in these 10 pages, than you'll find in some entire series.

I believe there was a book published recently about Otto Binder. I'd be interested in picking that one up as the more I learn about the man, the more interested I become. I've never read any of his Adam Link stuff
(my only exposure being the Joe Orlando strip in Creepy), but I saw one at a local used book store and I may go back and grab it.

I am not sure of the best way to post numerous pictures on a blog, but this is the best way I could think of for the time being. Enjoy and please share any comments that you might have.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

DVDos and DVDon'ts

40 Year-Old Virgin
I had heard and read so many good things about this movie, I guess disappointment was inevitable, but I didn’t think I’d be this disappointed. Much like Anchorman, this movie plays out more like a series of funny (and not so funny) scenes patched together with duct tape. Steve Carell and Catherine Keener do their best to rise above the material – but it is impossible as they are overwhelmed by the dominating frat house humor. Yes there are funny moments (the best scenes are simply with Carell and Keener), but they are few and far between. I cannot believe that the man behind Freaks and Geeks and the World’s Best Boss were responsible for this script, which seems to drop an F-bomb every 15 seconds. My expectations were much too high – but I am simply shocked that this movie received such rave reviews and was seen as so original and endearing. Grade: C+

Cincinnati Kid
Watched this one over the Christmas holidays. I love classic movies, but sometimes you are left wondering why some are seen as classics. This is a solid, serviceable movie. It has an ok script, and some decent poker scenes. Beyond showing a bit of the underbelly of New Orleans, Norman Jewison’s direction adds very little flair. Ann Margaret plays the vixen as if she has been parachuted in from her first day of acting classes. The saving grace is Edward G. Robinson – who manages to steal the movie from a nearly comatose Steven McQueen. Overall, it’s enjoyable but the comparisons to The Sting on the DVD case are a bit of a stretch. Grade: B

Rodger Dodger
I have been reluctant to rent this one, as I had a feeling that it may be just a little too misogynistic for me to sit through with Kat. I was wrong and I am glad that I was wrong. Over the Christmas holidays, we rented a big stack of DVDs and this was hands-down the best movie of the lot. Superb acting, kinetic direction and sharp dialogue make this movie bounce along at a nice clip. Movies like this prove that a small film with good writing and acting can be vastly more entertaining than a big budget extravaganza. I would have thought Campbell Scott might have received a few awards for his work here, but I guess the film was just a little too far below the radar. Grade: A

Beyond the Sea
How man who finally has the opportunity to put together his dream project after so many years could make such a bland film is beyond me. There is nothing really wrong with this film, but neither is there anything right with it. It comes across like a competent NBC Movie of the Week. Kevin Spacey looks ridiculous trying to court Kate Bosworth. Grade: C+

Monday, January 16, 2006

The Future is Invincible

The comic book industry is in the toilet.

Comic books are looking more and more like Maxim magazine.

Where have you gone, Sal Buscema?

These are all things that I have said or though in recent years. Over time, I have become less and less interested in handing over $3 or $4 for a story involving Pam Anderson wannabes that takes me 90 seconds to read. Although I have grown more and more cynical over time, every now and then I read a new comic book that renews my faith in the funnybook business.

After a really, really lousy week – I came home to find a package from a comic book pal of mine from D.C. Inside was a hardcover edition of a book he had recommended: Invincible: Ultimate Collection Vol. 1.

There is nothing I like to do more on a Saturday morning, than to grab a cup of coffee and to sit down on my couch with a comic book. It’s become a little bit more challenging lately, with a newborn demanding a lot of my attention – but I still try to make time for the 4 Color world.

Although I am sure that I am the last person to jump on the bandwagon – I just want to say that for anyone who is looking for something new to try, this book is great. It features superb characterization, subdued but effective artwork and some great dialogue. At times, the story feels very Silver Age retro, but they are certain touches that help to establish that this book is indeed very modern.

Invincible helps to demonstrate that superhero books just might still have a future.

Thanks for the book, Ray!